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Using self-determination theory to assess the service product at a wellness facility: a case study

Karen Thal (Department of Applied Business Studies, Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas, USA)
Simon Hudson (Department of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, USA)

Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Insights

ISSN: 2514-9792

Article publication date: 22 March 2019

Issue publication date: 10 September 2019




The purpose of this paper is to propose and test a theoretical framework to identify the specific aspects of the guest experience at a wellness facility that contribute to well-being. Self-determination theory (SDT) is used as the theoretical framework. According to SDT, basic needs must be met in order for psychological well-being to be achieved. Thus, in addition to the services and amenities offered, the quality of interactions with staff and service providers are integral to wellness vacation outcomes or basic need fulfillment.


Psychological precursors, or basic needs, were estimated using structural equation modeling, and these precursors were significant with the model explaining considerable variation in the outcome variable, well-being.


The results suggest that guest experiences can be enhanced if management facilitates guest autonomy, helps guests develop a sense of mastery with respect to activities and encourages positive interactions between guests.

Research limitations/implications

Study limitations include the single venue used for data collection, sample size and a focus on exercise activities as a proxy for staff–guest interactions.

Practical implications

This study sheds light on an under-researched area, providing managerial guidelines for wellness tourism destinations with respect to service delivery.


This study extends the wellness tourism literature by suggesting a framework to assess the service product and optimize guest experiences within the niche wellness sector of the tourism and hospitality industry.



Thal, K. and Hudson, S. (2019), "Using self-determination theory to assess the service product at a wellness facility: a case study", Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Insights, Vol. 2 No. 3, pp. 260-277.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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